The Turtle Brings Rain

Glimpse of a Turtle at Descanso Garden’s Mulberry Pond

To the American Indian, the turtle was a means by which rain can come in a dry season. Although Southern California had some rain this year, it wasn’t much; and it looks like it’s over until much later this year or early the next. Fortunately, the mountains to the north, from which we get most of our drinking water, had a fairly wet rainy season.

Here is one such ceremony for rainmaking using the image of a turtle that was documented by a surveyor who swears by it:

A Rain Turtle is a combined piece of American History from Indians & the Old West.

This is what I have been taught about them.

When I was a young man, & was taking an apprenticship in surveying, one of my teachers was a thin, OLD man that had been surveying since he was able to hold both ends of the rod off the ground. The old gent ALWAYS wore a white shirt, tie, kahaki pants, packer boots, and Fedora hat. He was in his 80’s when I met him….

He taught me that when the surveyors would survey boundaries & railroads across the old West, they often stayed with Indians, or had Indians accompany them on their long traverses across the American West.

The story goes on to say that when an area needed rain, the Indians would make the outline of a turtle in the sand, generally facing West, as that is the direction the Rain God came from…. Once the Turtle was drawn, the Indian would drive a stake of wood through the center of the Turtle. Often times, it rained instantly. The Indians took it for granted that the process worked & wondered why the “Dumb Ol’ White Eyes” would not use it when they needed the Rain God to appear!

Word of this phenominan [sic] quickly spread throughout the tight knit group of surveyors in the Old West. They quickly picked up on the trick & became apt at performing the simple cerimony [sic].

As they traveled through the West, they came across towns that severely needed rain for their crops & livestock. The surveyors were readily there to make a rain turtle & bring relief to the community…..

The communities, grateful to get the rainfall often offered to pay the surveyors for their precious gift….(which was promptly refused by the surveyors)

When the Survey Party proceeded to move on from the town, often, there had been a collection of baked goods, some money, chickens, things brought to the wagons the surveyors used, by the townspeople in appreciation for the rain.

Today, most surveyors know of the Rain Turtle…. Most of them use it to get a well deserved break in work, caused by the rain…

In my crowded little apartment, I have numerous turtles, most of which were fashioned by Indians. In the weeks to come, I will photograph them and present them in these pages. It will be my own ceremony for rain-making. Maybe it’ll work; maybe it won’t. Doesn’t matter.


Turtles—But No Rain

Turtles at Mulberry Pond

Turtles at Mulberry Pond

There is a Native American rain ritual involving turtles, which, being a Hungarian American, I feel would not work if I performed it. So I watched the turtles at Descanso Gardens, which seemed to be having a population explosion. Maybe they’re doing the rain turtle ceremony themselves; and maybe, later in March, we will have a proper inundation.

I have come to suspect, however, that weather forecasters are evil sorcerers. Whenever we get some measurable rain, and we’ve had more so far than last year at this time, I believe that the forecasters suck it all up for filling their swimming pools. They take such pleasure in telling us after every rain that it did nothing to relieve the drought: In fact, it probably made it worse.

Then, whether the weather gets hot and dry, they take even more pleasure in announcing how lovely the weather is, what with all the surrounding brown hillsides with are bound to catch fire in the fall.

There’s more here than meets the eye!

Turtles and Rain

The Navajo Indians Think that Turtles Bring Rain

The Navajo Indians Think that Turtles Bring Rain

As Southern California is currently engulfed in several mammoth wind-driven brush fires, I think of how the Navajo and other Indian tribes believe that turtles are instrumental in bringing rain. They draw the outline of a turtle in the sand. The stick that is used to draw the figure is then driven into the ground through the back of the turtle. This supposedly brings rain, some say immediately, some say within a few days.

It is supposed to rain a little tomorrow, but given the time of year, I think it will be what a call a “dirty drizzle”—good for nothing but spotting the windshield of my car.

I have a small collection of turtle figurines I’ve purchased in years past driving through the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. Since we get an average of 15 inches of rainfall a year (this year we have only a third the amount), we need all the help we can get. I’m counting on my turtles to open the floodgates of the heavens.

The picture above was taken at Mulberry Pond at Descanso Gardens last week.